THE WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS By Stopford A. Brooke, M.

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ST. MATT. xx. I 13. THIS parable, though some have said it was added at a later time to the Gospel, cannot justly be taken away from the sayings of Jesus. It has all the marks of his way of thinking, his manner of teaching, his character, and his style. It has no doctrinal peculiarities, such as belonged to later invented stories or discourses. It has no limiting elements ; everything is left out which would prevent its applicability to men and women at all times in history. It is very simple in phrase and invention. A child can understand it as well as a wise man. Its spiritual truth is represented by that which was commonly seen by its hearers. A wedding feast and procession were continually occurring in the streets and houses of the Jews. The main points are clear ; special and temporary ornament is excluded. Finally, it appeals to common sense and the facts of life at all its points ; and yet the whole of the story is heightened and pervaded by a certain imaginative passion, by a spiritual fire which makes it unforgettable. I have 235

236 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS no doubt that it comes direct from the voice and emotion of Jesus. Its main meaning is clear. It is one of the parables which pressed a certain prudence upon the disciples, and on us the duty of looking forward and preparing for a revelation of the kingdom of God, of being ready for new light and life from the Father of light and life. The main force of it is in its last phrase, " Watch ye, therefore, for ye know not the day when the Son of man cometh." And it is not unwise to think of it at this time when the elements of the world, as St. Paul called them the social,

political and intellectual ideas of men (in science, religion, and literature) are seething together, without as yet any clear form, but incessantly desiring and seeking it ; when we may expect, and, like the virgins, are waiting for, the coming of the Bridegroom the revelation, in each of these provinces of thought, of the clear form of the ideas, which will for a time, till they are in turn superseded, rule the thoughts and actions of men. What, then, was the prudence, the prevision Christ urged on his people ? It was not the common worldly prudence of which we hear so much, the careful looking forward to the gain of pelf, and place, and worldly honour. He told his disciples not to worry about these things. " Take no anxiety for their morrow. Your heavenly Father knows how much of these is good for you." It was, on the contrary, his own prudence which he urged upon them, and that prudence, when it nailed him to the

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 237 Cross, was certainly not the prudence of the world. or was it prudence for their personal salvation, which would lock up their will and desire in their own souls, isolate them within themselves, and so prevent them, first, from watching for new ideas of God ; and then, from doing loving work for their fellow-men. A selfish prudence, even for our own salvation, was not the prudence of Christ. But the prudence he did urge on them was one which should make provision for the new spiritual kingdom which he was bringing to men. It was taking care that they should be alive with faith, and hope, and love, and therefore ready to take their active part in the work of the kingdom and that work was the redemption of man. That was to be their first object, and, in doing that work, they would best win their own redemption. Their salvation was involved in the salvation of mankind. He who first saves others saves himself. Therefore, he cried in this parable, " take care that you keep burning in your hearts the lamps of love

for men, of faith in God the Lover of men, of hope for the resurrection of the world from the death of sin to the new life of righteousness. A new revelao tion is coming to the earth. Watch for its coming, as the virgins watch on the housetops for the coming of the Bridegroom. Prepare your souls to welcome and work the new ideas. Let your whole life be set forward in expectation ; be in good trim for a great change." This is the central meaning of the parable. What change? Well, Jesus thought it was a

238 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS time of crisis in the religious history of man. " The kingdom of God is at hand," was the cry with which he began his ministry, and the thought and passion of it burned in his heart from the days of azareth to the day of Calvary. And here, in this parable, he told his disciples that at any moment that doctrine of life might get clear, which, received and believed, would regenerate the world. But it was not yet clear. The dawn was in the sky, but the sun had not yet risen ; and he described in this parable the transition. As he looked round on the world of Palestine, he saw many who were eagerly but vaguely gazing onwards in faith and expectation of a revelation ; who had in their souls the lamps of hope and a righteous life burning ; ready for new ideas, but ignorant of them, and therefore often weary of waiting. These were the five wise virgins who kept their lamps alive, but sometimes slept for weariness of spirit. But he also saw multitudes who were unready, who did not care to look forward ; on whose ears fell unheeded the news of the kingdom ; who had allowed the lamps of love and faith and hope to die out ; who, instead of watching for the future, were wholly wrapt up in the present world, drifting through society like the Sadducees ; eager for power and wealth in an earthly kingdom like the Pharisees ; drowned in religious formalism like the lawyers and

scribes ; or idling in mere amusement ; or caring for nothing but money ; or demoralized to the bone like the Common crowd of Jerusalem. " What,"

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 239 they cried, " is this future kingdom to us ? The present is enough. Let us eat and drink and be merry, and then sleep off our surfeit." These were the foolish virgins. Again and again Christ sketched these persons : like those, he said, before the Flood ; like those in Sodom before the fire ; like the blind who lead the blind ; like the labourers in the vineyard who slew their master; like the children playing in the marketplace ; like the man who hid his lord's money ; like the man who built his house upon the sand too like only too like a great part of our society, hungry for place and power, seeking on earth our only kingdom, slaves to the present world ; truckling to the great gods of cash and fashion ; glad only when we run glittering like a brook in the open sunshine of the world ; clothed in purple and fine linen, and Lazarus at our gate, and God with Lazarus and the devil with us ; gambling with wealth which we owe to man, and of which we rob him ; taking our sensual pleasure and our fast life where we can ; eating and drinking and making merry to excess, and the fiery rain ready to fall on our society and our souls ; flirting with immorality like careless children ; curious of strange sin, of uncommon luxury, of reckless extravagance ; pursuing money as if it were good-fortune to attain it, as if it were an eternal possession, and, when we get it, storing it up or gambling it away, as we gamble our true life away ; not using it for man or for the State, save in a thoughtless impulse of charity. Or, if not

2 4 o WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS engaged in this accumulation or extravagance, idling our days away, hiding our talents in the earth of

sloth, too lazy to use them for man or God ; not able to say when each night falls, "I have given help, strength, or comfort to anyone, or done any work which will live in the spirit of the world " life a mere dream, and we a flitting phantasm in it and all the time the cry, "The kingdom of God is at hand," is ringing in the heaven and on the earth, and the hour when our folly or our wisdom will be proved drawing near and nearer, inevitable in judgment. " Behold the Bridegroom cometh ; go ye forth to meet him." The testing of the nation is always at hand. At any moment a war may try the character of every man and woman in England ; at any moment a new discovery may change the face of social life ; at any moment a new thought, bringing with it a national passion, may revolutionize society, art, science, literature, politics, and religion ; at any moment a political crisis, which will perforce involve all our lives, may demand our decision, and cry to us, " Are you for God or Baal, for justice or injustice?" These are the coming of the Bridegroom hours of sifting and decision, when the foolish are divided from the wise, and the door is shut upon the foolish. Too late ! too late ! That is one of the terrible side-thoughts of the parable most true, most miserably true, to the facts of the life of men and women. Such a change is coming on us, but it has not fully declared itself. We are in its slow approach-

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 241 ings, just as Christ's disciples were. A whole class, like that of the Sadducees, has put all spiritual religion aside as superstition, and is content to act only for the present world. Some of them are in earnest and work for humanity ; they have some oil in their lamps. But, beyond this earnest centre, the rest are content to amass riches, to eat and drink and have pleasure, to get on in society, and drift at ease to the sleep they imagine will be dreamless. Another class has a formal reverence for a steady, legal morality in life, and with that are content.

As among the Pharisees of Palestine, so among them there is an earnest, thoughtful, active, ethical centre, whose lamps burn with the oil of good conduct. But beyond these, a large number are as intolerant as the Pharisees were rigid in formal righteousness, neglectful of mercy and justice, having a great eagerness to condemn the fallen, and no eagerness to pity and uplift them. Love, the first source of light, without which moral conduct is of no enduring worth, does not burn in their lamps. A still greater number have only a surface morality a morality of conventions, of legal judgments, of social maxims, of obedience to formal rules which will keep them respectable while their inward life, the life in which God's will should be supreme, and should pass as a spirit into their business and their home, is utterly neglected ; no aspiration, no passion for eternal love, no home beyond the world ; dead while they live, for they are dead to love. Oh, when the Bridegroom comes, what will they do ? 16

242 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS When their social law is shaken as by an earthquake, where will they be ? For, indeed, the times are in process of change. The old ideas which ruled society are slowly decaying, and the new are growing. We are waiting for the Bridegroom on the housetop of the world. Everyone is conscious of that, more or less. And, instead of looking and working for the new, the greater number are making a desperate fight for the old. The Sadducees and the Pharisees of our social order, as it has been understood for some centuries ; the scribes and lawyers of to-day ; all the class that desires to retain its privileges undiminished, its monopolies untouched, no matter who suffers from them ; its possessions uninfringed by any claim from the State, no matter how great are the public diseases that cry for healing are now up in arms for their selfinterest. I am amazed by their conduct, for a kingdom is coming which will call their self-interests

unpractical, since they are against the interests of the whole State ; and will demand of them, if they would be admitted as citizens, that they should subordinate their particular interests to those of the whole people. The Bridegroom is coming to our society. I see the torches. I hear the cries drawing near. Are we ready to meet him with the lamp of selfsacrifice happily aflame ? If not, the door will be shut upon us. Half our world nay, more is in that condition. Another part is awake and watching, and it is well for England that it holds those who will not sleep in selfishness, but keep

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 243 the lamps of love, justice, faith, and hope burning in their hearts, and giving light to men. It is a transition time which has lasted long, too long for our impatience. Yet it moves, and every movement sets forward the day of the kingdom. Transition cannot last for ever. owhere in history do we find that such a condition is permanent. The hour comes when ideas, long in solution, crystallize into clear form. The men are born who can use them rightly and make them work. Then, issuing from them, new excitements traverse religion, philosophy, art, science, law, business, and society. Winter is followed by spring, night by the rising sun. We already feel we have felt for years the advent of a new and impelling mass of thoughts, with all their accordant emotions. As clearly as Jesus proclaimed a new kingdom at hand, so may we. Many will be blind to it, many will hate it, many will be asleep and continue sleeping. But those who watch for it will be awake. They will suddenly hear a great cry, " Behold, the Bridegroom cometh ; go forth to meet him." And when he comes, how shall we meet him ? That depends on how we have waited and watched, on how we have tended the lamps of our spirit faith, hope, love, pity, justice, truth the lamps of God's character within us. He comes, as I have said, in a new set of ideas, or of old ideas trans-

formed by a new spirit. So came Christianity. And when the ideas are fully come, they go like fire through all society and all the spheres of human

244 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS thought and action. And the world knows of them by the war they instantly create. The peace of exhausted ideas and their forms in society is forthwith broken, the sword of thought is drawn. Action follows, all men are eager, and the battle of the new with the old is set in array and joined. And each side, no longer vague in judgment, knows clearly its purpose and its goal. Even the sleepers arise after a time and are sucked into the contest. Old men dream, with a new spirit in them, the dreams of their youth ; young men prophesy ; the neglected workers, the enslaved, the commonplace folk, the poor, the ignorant, they too are set on fire by the spirit of the time. Principles, not maxims, seize on men ; what is of duty, not what is expedient, is done ; formalism is driven from its ancient thrones in religion, art, politics, law, and society ; what is spiritual more than what is moral, what is imaginative more than what is called practical, rules life ; greater even than interest in the present is interest in the future. The battle deepens, till the victory is won, and society, accepting the new conceptions, begins a new era in history, enters a new kingdom. It has not come to us as yet, but it draws near. We can but watch for it, and work in its approaches. How it will form itself, what it will do, of what kind will be its victory, we may imagine, but we cannot tell. Its outcome and its shaping are in the hands of God, and of the men whom He inspires. But one thing we can say clearly ; one thing

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 245 we can know and act upon. We can say how we should prepare ourselves for its coming, of

what temper and spirit we should be to meet that day of the Lord ; what powers should be nourished into energy in our souls ; what oil should be in our vessels to keep our lamps alight ; what watchfulness should be ours. And this I can urge on you, as Jesus urged it on his disciples, for the sake of the human race. That is the point of my urging. Light, then, the Lamp of Truth in your soul. Be true to all you know of the character of God. Be true, whatever temptation the world may offer you, to your own soul, to the principles and convictions you believe in. Stand for them against the allurements of wealth, and the fashion of society. Dwell, as in a fortress, in the truths you know ; your constancy will help the world. And, for your outward life, keep burning the Lamp of Justice. With your children, with your friends, with your dependents, in your public business, be strictly just to them rather than to yourself. See all sides, put yourself in the place of others, when you judge ; and never, above all, let your justice violate the higher law of love. Lay all your ideas of justice, in all your dealings with men, open to the eyes of God. " Is this, my Father, what Thy justice will approve ? Is this the way in which I would myself desire to be judged?" When you make these lamps burn clear, the Lamp of Righteous Conduct will be full of oil. Your conscience will

246 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS not bark at you, and men will be bettered by your work for them. So much for morality. But the child of God, the disciple of Christ, has more lamps than these to keep alight. There are, first, the lamps which burn for the illumination of the human race ; and secondly, those of the personal life of our own spirit. And of the first, there is the Lamp of Hope. It is not of personal hope I speak now we have enough of that but of hope for the human race. It is hard, and hardest when our own fate is hard, to hope for the

redemption of man, when we know, only too well, the story of his misery, weakness, and wickedness. evertheless, cherish this hope, and, in the teeth of all that seems to contradict it, cling to it with passion. Its elements lie deep in our nature ; they seem incapable of decay or death ; and for so ineradicable a power in us, there ought to be a reason in the constitution of things. Moreover, hope for mankind works wonders when we live by it. Despair of it works evil ; action directed by it works good. That at least is proved fact. Live in that hope. It will make a sunshine in the days when life is dark. It will make you love and help your fellow-men. You will reverence and honour them, for they are contained in this hope. Even in the outcast and the lost you will see the trace of good, for, to you, all are children of an illimitable love. Keep that lamp burning in your soul. Then, there is the Lamp of Faith in God. I do not speak now of faith in Him for ourselves, though

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 247 that, indeed, is needful, but of faith in Him as the Saviour of the human race. I call that lamp faith in the sovereignty of God ; that faith, which, in spite of the awful perversion the Puritans imposed on it, was the source of their strength in character, and of the moral force with which they impressed the nations. We change their sovereignty of avenging justice, of might making right, into the sovereignty of love. To us God is love, and His justice is a vital part of love, from which all possibility of vengeance is excluded. For all the noble uses and ideals of life with your fellow-men, and for their future, this faith in God as the sovereign Father of all His children, and in His direction of all nations into final union with His Love and Holiness, is the lamp whose flame gives us courage to live, eagerness to work, and power to console and exalt our brothers. There is always, if God directs the world, a kingdom of God at hand whenever the world's life seems

exhausted. His eternal life breathes freshly through the sin and decay of the peoples, and when one cycle is finished another begins in resurrection. That is the inspiring, comforting, exalting faith which pours new life into our own soul, and into the arteries of society. Feed that lamp night and day. And need I speak of the Lamp of Love, without whose light and warmth the other lamps die out ? It is the spirit of their being, the kindler of their brightness, their chief nourisher in their depression and faintness ; and, if they are momentarily ex-

248 WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS tinguished by the storm and darkness of life, their re-illuminator. ever let its flame diminish in your soul within, and in your life without. It is God within you, Christ within you. While you keep it, you keep in touch with the Eternal, with the Infinite, with all the universe of spirit, with universal humanity. Let its light shine with tender brightness on your home, on your friends, on your society, on the comfortable and the poor, on ignorant and wise, and on your enemies. Let its light be like the sunshine of God which falls on the good and on the evil. But even this is not enough of love. Let it expand to a larger scope ; its essential difference is expansion. Love your country as a citizen should love it, and sacrifice your personal desires in order to heal its diseases as a State, and to promote its progress. And then, also, love the whole race of man ; and the clear, practical way to take that statement out of its vagueness is this : Love, and sacrifice your life in the service of, the great ideas by whose power and prevalence the advance of man to higher and higher life is attained and secured. W T hen, loving these, you live and die for them, you love the human race. That was the life and death of Christ. Lastly, in the personal depths of the soul, where we are each alone with God, light and cherish the Lamp of Aspiration. Light it from that eternal fire which in the innermost shrine of the soul burns

upon its altar. It has been lit by God Himself; it is a part of His immortal fire, and for time and for eternity it never can be quenched. We are, by

WISE VIRGI S A D THEIR LAMPS 249 it, of God, and from God ; and it will, when we have done and suffered all, fly back with us to find itself in conscious union with His eternal fire. There is no nation which has not felt this Divine fire moving in it ; there is no man, however dark his way, who has not been at some time conscious of its flame. We have, by it, the right to claim kindred with the Highest. Claim the right, illumine from that fire the Lamp of Aspiration. Aspire within, in thought and with passion, to nothing less than to become at one with the character, will, and love of God your Father. Day by day let your aspiration deepen, till, in great humility, it seems to touch the infinites of truth, of righteousness, of mercy, of knowledge, of ineffable beauty, and of universal love issuing for ever into lovely creation. For there is no end to what we may become. God Himself has said it by the voice of Jesus Christ, " Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."

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